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Are electric scooters taking over?

Art by Femi Henry-Chia

Coincidentally, (and maybe a little suspiciously) green and gray (just like Eagle Rock Jr. Sr. High’s school colors) public electric scooters have begun appearing steadily around the high school campus. And with them comes, of course, a rising number of students can’t resist taking a ride. Just 39 cents per minute and one dollar to unlock, these LINK scooters are providing an excursion growing in popularity. However, is it dangerous to have electric scooters by schools? Or are they helping the needed increase in micromobility and environmentally friendly vehicle alternatives?

LINK, Micromobility, and Sustainability

LINK electric scooters are the most common scooters utilized around Eagle Rock High School, and through personal observation, the most common scooters around Los Angeles. Engineered by mother transportation robotics company, Superpedestrian, LINK boasts many desirable tech bonuses like their patented Pedestrian Defence (used since July 2012) which centers around unsafe riding and user misconduct like sidewalk and wrong-way riding. Geofencing is another notable advanced addition. According to LINK, a geofence is a “set of rules linked to a virtual geographic perimeter”. For instance, if an area is marked as a slow riding zone, the scooter should automatically reduce speed through its geofencing software. Even riding on a sidewalk should signal your scooter to slowly cut its motor and warn the rider with flashing LED lights. Superpedestrian even goes as far as saying that LINK is “the world’s smartest, safest e-scooter.” Compared to other competing brands, LINK does truly rise above because of the stated software.

Geofencing on the LINK App. Image by LINK

LINK is a relatively new electric scooter, as it launched in 2020 and debuted in Los Angeles in August of 2021 during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic we are still undergoing today. Major electric scooter companies like Bird and Lime underwent major layoffs due to the pandemic, and like all public transportation, was negatively affected by the pandemic. Lime even went as far as being the first major scooter provider to stop service in California in March of 2020. The company pulled its shared electric scooters from 20 countries and 21 states. However, as we slowly dip our toes back into the “normal” we had before, electric scooters are sure to make a comeback. Personal electric vehicles like electric scooters are necessary in the development of a more sustainable, not to mention eco-friendly world. This is especially significant, even essential, for dense cities like LA.

Image by Sofia Casias

According to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, micromobility refers to the use of smaller, lightweight, usually single-person vehicles such as electric scooters and motor-assisted bicycles. These vehicles normally do not surpass 25km/h. Micromobility is also, as Forbes article Micromobility Emerges From The Pandemic With Some Lessons Learned. Is It A Business? describes it, “ridiculous green.”

Compared to combustion engines, electric motors are three times more efficient. This efficiency and the fact that electric scooters involve limited or no direct CO2 emissions when taking a “tank to wheels'' perspective is the key environmental benefit of scooters and micromobility as a whole. But as of now, leaving a carbon footprint with electric scooters is inevitable through factors like production and waste. If we keep moving forward and electric scooter manufacturers employ greener measures, micromobility holds even more sustainability potential.

Why the sidewalk?

Rarely do I ever see people on electric scooters ride on the street. Most of the time, riders cruise or speed heart-thumpingly fast down the sidewalk. But in California, under California Vehicle Code (CVC) §21230, it is actually illegal to ride electric scooters on the sidewalk. This sentiment, especially among adolescents, is commonly unheard of or forgotten. According to a survey I performed, 73.3% of the survey respondents did not know that it was illegal to ride electric vehicles on the sidewalk.

LINK electric scooter handlebar noting that one is prohibited to ride on sidewalks among other rules. Image by Sofia Casias

This raises the question of whether it is safer to ride on the sidewalk than the street for children and teenagers riders. In a busy and vehicle-filled city like Los Angeles, it is unsafe to ride single-person vehicles alongside traffic if conditions like bike lanes and protocols are not provided. Are electric scooter providers aware of these limitations when placing vehicles by schools like ERHS? And if riding a bike in LA is notoriously dangerous, how safe can it be for children to ride electric scooters on the street?

Electric scooter by Eagle Rock Jr. Sr. High School. Image by Sofia Casias

On the other hand, riding on the sidewalk is dangerous to pedestrians. Ninth-grader Julian Curiel, like many other students I gathered statements from, agreed that this is a substantial factor to keep electric scooters off the sidewalks. “I think it’s ok because it’s the same thing with bikes, in which you would have to go on the street. And also, it’s restricting other people from walking in which they would have to move out of the way [of the electric scooter],” he told me. According to my poll, most participants, 40%, lean towards the conclusion that electric scooters are not dangerous. 46.9% agree that the vehicle’s danger relies on the rider. “I think that if the rider is competent enough, they're completely safe,” an anonymous respondent writes, “ If not, then there's always the possibility for accidents.”

In the aforementioned survey, students provided useful solutions for the improvement of Los Angeles' electric vehicle safety. Most comments align with the idea that there should be more advertisements on how it is illegal to ride scooters on the sidewalk, the placement of designated electric scooter returns to avoid accidents and sidewalk clutter, and overall education about electric vehicle safety. In the aim to stop sidewalk riding Julian suggests that people can “possibly put up signs that say ‘Get off [of the sidewalk]’”. Employing means like these are vital for keeping micromobility as a safe, effective transportation device.

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